How to enjoy a solo retreat
May 28, 2023 8:26 AM   Subscribe

I've been Going Through It recently and impulsively booked myself a week-long retreat in the woods. At the time, the idea of being mostly-alone in nature sounded restorative, but I have problems with excessive rumination and I worry that so much unstructured alone time will just make me feel worse.

The region is somewhat remote from actual civilization, but still quite popular with tourists so all the mod cons (grocery store, cell reception, internet, a few restaurants) are present. I'll be working remotely during the week which will keep me occupied for most of the day; the idea is that for the rest of the time I can bike or hike in the forest, sit on the beach and watch the water/read a book, etc. I would like to prepare some strategies to make sure I actually do those things instead of just sitting in my accommodation feeling bad after the workday ends.

Specific things I'm worrying about:

- Last time I was here was with my recent ex, and I'm probably going to feel sad about it (our breakup, not initiated by me, is one of the Things I'm Going Through referenced above).
- I can be a bit of a homebody and have a hard time getting myself to leave a place after "settling in" without some sort of external motivation (e.g. someone else dragging me out to an activity, or a task I know needs to be done within business hours)
- The region is pretty popular with families and groups. I realize they're probably not going to even register that I'm there, but I'll notice and feel lonely and left out
- I worry I'll come back home afterwards and feel disoriented from my routine, where momentum was starting to build up again as I was reconnecting with old friends, picking up new projects, etc which had to be put on hold for the week

How can I gently redirect if I start feeling this way, and try to make the most of my trip?
posted by btfreek to Grab Bag (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I mean...maybe you shouldn't go? I find when I'm hurting my impulses are to do the very things that will make my bad feelings worse (isolate, lash out, etc.) and this seems possibly like you're doing the same thing.

Getting away might be good but I'd go somewhere to visit a friend, do a lot of things, etc.
posted by daisystomper at 8:48 AM on May 28, 2023 [7 favorites]

Could you split the difference? Maybe go for a long weekend rather than a week. I really respect and understand the impulse to be in nature and spend some time with yourself. But a week with only yourself as company sounds like it could be excessive and, as you said, disconnect you from some of the tendrils you're starting to put out there socially. Maybe you can have the best of both worlds! Best of luck to you and here's to easier times soon.
posted by jeszac at 8:52 AM on May 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

I went through something similar and I love these kinds of things but it’s good that you have self awareness to know the things to Avoid.

I think this will be a lovely trip. You will likely have a day or two of “omg this is awful” but then you’ll find a nice inner peace that settles in. It will likely be sad at times especially if you went with your ex, but acknowledge the thought and move on.

Maybe you can invite a friend? But that may rob you of this cool opportunity. Or call on facetime a friend or two to curb the loneliness. Go for a hike or two, and ask a friend to be an accountability buddy so that you can follow up with them after.

I’m a little jealous that you get to do this! My personal vote is that you should go - your best friend is yourself - and that you won’t regret it but some strategies will help you move past the discomfort.
posted by pando11 at 8:54 AM on May 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

I have problems with excessive rumination ... Specific things I'm worrying about: [long list]

How can I gently redirect if I start feeling this way, and try to make the most of my trip?

It seems to me that the fact of that long list is much more your present problem than the content of it, which says to me that you're already feeling this way. So the time to start redirecting is right now.

You cannot know how this trip is going to be for you. On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that time spent outdoors amongst the trees is good for mental health. So your retreat plan strikes at least this Internet stranger as completely sound, and I recommend that as of right now you start actively refusing to try to solve its every conceivable problem in advance. You've booked this thing, your reasons for having done so were sound, so now all you need to do is just go.

If it's going to suck (and parts of it might well suck, that's the nature of working through internal issues) then let it suck then, not now. Just go, and let the experience unfold as it will. Because the most likely outcome is that it won't suck as much as spending the same amount of time not being there, and you will indeed end up feeling better for having done it.
posted by flabdablet at 8:55 AM on May 28, 2023 [9 favorites]

You should totally go! And for the whole week. I think the change of scenery is ultimately a good thing, and being outdoors is incredibly restorative. Do a nightly campfire. Walk down to the general store for an ice cream sandwich. Practice skipping stones in the lake. Make friends with dogs. There will be plenty to do.

When I'm down, I like to do something that gives me a sense of accomplishment. Bring something you can easily do, make, fix, mend, etc. during the week. So even if it's a wash emotionally, you can say, well, this week I wrote a letter to my favorite aunt, or listened to this audiobook I liked, or folded this colorful garland of origami cranes that'll brighten up my home, so at least I accomplished something I set out to do.
posted by mochapickle at 9:04 AM on May 28, 2023 [12 favorites]

So when I last tried something like this, it didn't go well for the first few days and I just ruminated more, but it went a LOT better after I spent a few hours writing down all of my thoughts in a journal. That allowed me to flush things out of my system and enjoy the rest of the experience. There's sort of two ways to deal with rumination: Keep yourself interested in things so the rumination doesn't take hold, or channel the energy and thoughts of rumination into something so it sort of drains out of your system. It doesn't sound like the goal of this trip is to do a ton of interesting stuff (although hiking in the woods does help) so I would focus on trying to channel your rumination energy.

There are lots of ways to do this, the simplest is handwriting a journal but I usually type mine into a laptop even on remote trips. Or, you could record yourself talking and complain about the things that are making you anxious. Or, you could channel it into some sort of creative thing. The goal is to teach your brain that you ARE dealing with the thing you're ruminating about, so it doesn't need to keep obsessing about it. Then, your brain will be more open to enjoying the relaxing parts. Also you don't need to worry about not feeling "relaxed" after the first days, the real point of this kind of retreat is to experience a new context which will be good for you even if you don't accomplish any particular "self care" goals.
posted by JZig at 9:38 AM on May 28, 2023 [7 favorites]

Could you ask a friend to join you for part of the time? Knowing that you have company coming out might make long stretches of time less daunting.
posted by rpfields at 9:52 AM on May 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

I'd also recommend journaling. Also, in advance of the trip, put together a list of activities you'd like to do and their logistics (eg. Beach Trip - with things to pack and route to the beach) to remove the planning barrier to doing things. Each evening, possibly as part of your journaling, pick what you'd like to do the next day and think about how nice it'll be so you can look forward to it through your work day. (If your weather is very consistent you could do this all in advance, but this allows for some flex in mood and climate.)

These activities can also include lower key things like call a friend, or sit at home and read Book A, or cook a nice meal, here's the recipe and shopping list, as well as hikes and restaurants. The idea is to have a range of things so you'll be able to find something to fit where you're at.
posted by platypus of the universe at 10:01 AM on May 28, 2023 [5 favorites]

It depends, but it could be a moment of growth to face your fears of spending the time ruminating and practice sitting with them in a totally different environment.
posted by lookoutbelow at 11:35 AM on May 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

I think you will have a really great time! Or at least an average time. But one of my genuine favorite things about being an adult is that I can Just Leave. Starts to suck? Leave!! I think many people got conditioned as a kid to being stuck in various situations that they weren't allowed to leave. So it can be hard to remember that with most things you can Literally Just Leave.
posted by dusty potato at 12:14 PM on May 28, 2023 [13 favorites]

Do it! I did 4 days of this myself last Summer, and I worried in advance about a lot of things -- including not taking the best advantage of the time.

I did in fact end up spending about half the time just lounging in my hotel room and balcony, rather than Going Out and Doing Things, but you know what? I really, really needed the rest. And the quality of lounge time while on vacation is different than the quality of lounge time at home, and I found it really restorative. So I'd recommend gently letting go of the idea that you need to go out and do things every single day for this to be a successful retreat -- if you find yourself feeling glued to the cabin couch or porch some days, accept that that, too, will be helpful.

Big +1s to these suggestions already made:

Get some of the stuff out of your head by journaling, now and during your retreat.

Bring a couple things to do that will distract your mind. I like bringing my ereader, something to do with my current hobby, and then something like legos or coloring in case my brain is not able to focus on reading or hobbying.

Accept that there will be some discomfort, and part of the benefit of a retreat is to spend time with that discomfort on your own terms. This is hard, but worth it.

If you end up feeling truly unhappy, leave! Being able to just leave is one of the best things about traveling solo. I do recommend setting a minimum, though -- it might take a day or two for you to relax and embrace the retreat.
posted by rhiannonstone at 2:57 PM on May 28, 2023 [3 favorites]

If it’s important to you to bike, hike, or spend time at the beach, take at least a couple of days off work to do those things. You’re expecting a lot from yourself on top of a full work week.
posted by shock muppet at 9:41 PM on May 28, 2023 [5 favorites]

My idea would be similiar to the journaling idea, but adding a recipient. Commit to writing a letter (a long email) to a different friend each day. Gives you a sense of connection, and an incentive to something slightly interesting each day to have something to write about.
posted by sohalt at 12:48 AM on May 29, 2023

Not exactly like your situation, insofar as I was headed to an urban area, but: in 2006 I was dumped by an SO a couple weeks before we went on a vacation to Austin and San Antonio. I went anyway. I emailed friends who had traveled to the area to give me ideas for activities. I reached out to friends-of-friends in the area. It was really hard in parts. It was really wonderful in parts. I look back fondly on it.
posted by HeroZero at 5:07 AM on May 31, 2023 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I went! It was great.
posted by btfreek at 9:32 AM on June 20, 2023 [3 favorites]

posted by flabdablet at 10:05 AM on June 20, 2023

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